For teenagers, summer is the highlight of the year – no responsibilities, sleeping in until noon, a kitchen full of food, and the sweet smell of independence. Many moms and dads work full-time throughout the summer; some go on vacation and leave adolescents with an easygoing relative or friend; and some older adolescents are even left alone when moms and dads are away. All of the structure and scheduling that occurs during the school year turns into unadulterated freedom in the summer.
For moms and dads, the start of summer means the countdown to September is on. As yet another school year comes to a close, mothers/fathers are making last-minute plans to keep their adolescents occupied for three long months. Sure, a few weeks may be spent on a family vacation, some adolescents may attend summer school, and others may take up a new hobby. But that still leaves hours each day and days each week when adolescents are home with nothing to do. How many days can you invent amusing activities and outings that will keep your adolescent out of trouble?
With less structure and adult supervision, the summer is ripe with opportunities for adolescents to fall into a bad crowd, experiment with drugs or alcohol, or get into other forms of mischief. If your adolescent has been struggling during the school year, more trouble may be awaiting you in summer. Adolescents are looking for adventure, risk, and excitement, especially in the summer. Being bored at home is the exact opposite of what they need. They will find a way to take risks and live adventurously with or without your support and guidance.
Kids and teens that are not supervised are more likely to commit crimes, be victims of crimes, do drugs, or hang out with gang members. Young people start committing crimes around noon during the summer, compared to 3 p.m. during the school year. In addition, adolescents tend to commit drug crimes later in the evening during the summer, most likely because they can stay out later without worrying about getting up early for school. This means adolescents need constructive activities to occupy a broader range of time in summer than during the school year. For working moms and dads, it's difficult to be around from noon until late in the evening every day.
More adolescents try marijuana for the first time in summer than at any other time of year. This translates into 6,300 new users each day, a 40 percent increase in first-time youth marijuana use during June and July as compared to the rest of the year. A hike in new underage drinkers and cigarette smokers also occurs during the summer months.
By taking proper precautions and planning ahead, moms and dads can make summer vacation a positive and memorable growth experience for adolescents. Where should parents begin? Two words: Summer camp. Yes, there is cost involved, but for most struggling adolescents, the benefits are well worth the price.
Most adolescents want nothing more than a summer to hang out with their friends. However, for adolescents that are acting out, falling behind in school, disrespecting authority figures, or getting in trouble with the law, a break from negative peer influences may be exactly what they need. Sometimes the best thing for the whole family is to take a break, with a struggling adolescent attending camp to learn new skills and ways of approaching family conflict, and family members doing their own work at home.
There is no better way to make constructive use of free time than learning something new - a new skill, exploring an unfamiliar place, meeting new people. Therapeutic wilderness programs offer a unique opportunity for troubled adolescents to explore the wilderness on foot, learn primitive life skills, and participate in challenging group activities. When stripped of the comforts of home, like television, computers, and video games, adolescents connect with themselves and others on a deeper level.
Wilderness camps emphasize responsibility, self-awareness, teamwork, and communication, and challenge adolescents to achieve their personal best. Adolescents are introduced to a new group of peers and learn to relate to people of all backgrounds. They live in a structured, highly supervised environment, which helps adolescents gain perspective on life at home and build self-confidence and hope for a brighter future.
If summer camps and wilderness programs aren't right for your adolescent, consider getting him or her involved in volunteer work. Animal shelters, halfway houses, nursing homes, churches, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other organizations can keep adolescents occupied while developing a sense of purpose, self-confidence, and personal responsibility. In addition to teaching adolescents the joy of giving back, volunteer work looks great on college applications and resumes.
Another activity to keep adolescents busy this summer is a part-time job. Many moms and dads find internships or small tasks for their kids to do at their place of employment, or you can help your adolescent apply to local grocery stores, restaurants, retail stores, local car washes, or pet care facilities. Adolescents can also earn extra money babysitting, doing yard work, house-sitting, and other odd jobs. Part-time work helps adolescents budget, make friends, comply with authority, develop a strong work ethic, and learn the value of a dollar.
Keeping your youngster busy for the sake of being busy can be as disastrous as doing nothing. Your adolescent may rebel against the cluttered schedule and seek out more interesting people and places on his own. Your money would be put to better use in a summer camp with a clear, focused goal, such as a wilderness camp or weight-loss camp.
Moms and dads who are seeing early signs of behavioral or emotional problems in their kids have an excellent opportunity to get their children back on track during summer vacation. Waiting to address these issues until the summer has started or problems become serious would do a disservice to your adolescent. Start talking with your adolescent at least a month before the start of summer vacation to make plans, reserve a place at camp, and coordinate schedules.
More Tips for Making Summer Vacation a Positive Experience:
1. A stagnant economy may make the summer job search a bit more difficult than usual. But if your adolescent is serious about looking for summer work, encourage her to find (or create) a job that she can do during the morning (e.g., if she starts a lawn-mowing business, encourage her to schedule her appointments for the morning, before the hottest part of the day).
2. From volunteer experiences to summer internships to organized sports, summer vacation is an excellent time for adolescents to explore topics that interest them, but that they may not have the opportunity to delve into during the school year. If your adolescent enjoys sports, summer vacation is a great time to participate in a league or take part in a short-term skills camp. For adolescents who are interested in sports but who don't want to play, many youth leagues are always on the lookout for officials, scorekeepers, and coaches. If your family's financial situation is such that paid employment isn't a requirement for your adolescent during summer vacation, think about volunteer work or an unpaid internship. In addition to boosting your adolescent's college resume, these opportunities can also give your adolescent real-world work experience and insights into a career field that she is interested in.
3. Summer camp opportunities today include computer camp, finance camp, theater camp, wilderness camp, space camp, adventure camp, and many more. In addition to topic-centered summer camps, experienced professionals also operate innovative summer camps that are designed to support, motivate, and provide a memorable summer experience for all types of adolescents, including overweight kids and kids with learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and certain types of autism. In addition to providing a nurturing and accepting environment, weight loss summer camps and summer camps for special students can provide long-term educational, emotional, and therapeutic benefits for these kids.
4. If your adolescent has a history of behavior problems, defiance, substance abuse, or related challenges, summer vacation can be a difficult time both for him and for you. In the absence of the structure and support that is provided during the school year, summer vacation can cause significant backsliding in the behaviors of troubled adolescents and at-risk adolescents. To avoid these problems – and to turn summer vacation from a negative experience into a positive educational opportunity – educate yourself about the many therapeutic wilderness programs for troubled adolescents that have been established over the past few decades. In addition to helping your adolescent with issues related to behavior, mental health, and substance abuse, a summer wilderness program for troubled adolescents can also instill leadership values, personal responsibility, and a heightened sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
5. If your adolescent is a swimmer (or wants to learn), sign her up for morning lessons or a community team that practices during the a.m. hours. If your adolescent needs an academic boost, find a morning tutoring program (which serves the dual purpose of getting him out of bed and getting the "painful" part of the day out of the way).
6. If your adolescent wants some freedom during his summer vacation days, trade afternoon hours for morning chores. The benefits: Your adolescent is awake, your household chores are taken care of, and there's no daylong back and forth about what needs to be done. If the chores are done by a pre-determined time, afternoon activities are allowed; if the work isn't done, the afternoon schedule is curtailed or called off.
7. Realistically, handing your adolescent a schedule of morning chores, activities, and work assignments is not going to end your summer vacation stress. But anything you can do to encourage your adolescent to buy into (or take ownership of) the summer plan will make the process go much smoother. Sit down with your adolescent and discuss your hopes and plans for summer vacation. Perhaps you can trade hours (morning chores for afternoon fun), or maybe you can ease some restrictions (for example, an extended curfew) in exchange for desired behaviors (phoning home at predetermined times when out of the house, or completing a certain number of chores). In addition to reducing your adolescent's resistance to the summer vacation schedule, negotiating will make enforcement of punishments a bit more palatable, too, because your adolescent will know the penalty before he violated the rule.
There's a good chance that a significant portion of your adolescent's summer dreams involve, well, dreaming. From post-noon wake-ups to midday naps, extended snooze sessions can be among summer's most enticing opportunities for sleep-deprived, school-stressed adolescents. While there's no reason to insist that your adolescent rise with the sun during summer vacation, there are more than a few justifications for opposing a "wake me for dinner" mentality.
Don't just get by this summer, counting down the days until September. Wasted time is a wasted opportunity. A bold and exciting summer vacation can be a life-changing time of continued learning and personal exploration for adolescents.
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